In May 2014, Armor Down sponsored its second annual Mindful Memorial Day, a two-day event dedicated to honoring the fallen and promoting the use of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) to help those still suffering from the traumas of war. All of the event’s activities took place at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial, located at the entrance to Arlington National Cemetery.

Because so many people have come to equate Memorial Day with a three-day weekend and the start of summer, Armor Down felt a need to re-establish a focus on the day’s original purpose—honoring the men and women of the U.S. armed forces who died while in military service.

Where does the “mindful” part come in? At its simplest, mindfulness is about quieting the usual chatter in the mind and bringing one’s attention to the present moment. Mindfulness meditation is one of the most effective CAM treatments currently being employed in veterans and military hospitals. And in observing Memorial Day, mindfulness is a tool we can use to direct our full attention to honoring our fallen warriors. Our nation exists today because of their sacrifices, and mindfulness can help us unite around our shared appreciation.

For Mindful Memorial Day 2014, activities included several introductory sessions in mindfulness meditation and yoga, two CAM techniques that are increasingly being used to treat returning service members suffering from PTSD or other stress-related conditions. In addition, discussions were held on how families might approach end-of-life conversations and ways to ensure veterans better access to CAM therapies and other wellness and preventative care.

The centerpiece of the event was the creation of the Fallen Warrior Ribbon Memorial. 6,805 yellow ribbons, each representing a fallen service member from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, were hung by volunteers in the Exhibit Gallery of the Women’s Memorial. Visitors were encouraged to try a simple mindfulness practice, following eight steps to settle the mind and focus attention on honoring the fallen before entering the gallery. Upon leaving, many visitors took a ribbon home and memorialized the name of a fallen warrior on the Mindful Memorial Day Facebook page.

Alhough not extensively publicized beforehand, Mindful Memorial Day 2014 attracted enthusiastic participants from both military and civilian backgrounds and received positive press coverage by the Washington Post, WTOP, and American University’s alumni newsletter.

Armor Down and partners have established a Mindful Memorial Day Foundation for the purpose of producing the event at the Women’s Memorial on a continuing basis. Current partners include:

  • Circle Yoga
  • McGuire Woods
  • Sigma Alpha Mu
  • Women in Military Service for America Memorial Foundation

Ultimately, we honor the fallen by being our best selves, and helping to create a community grounded in wellness and mutual respect where all can thrive.